Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Intriguing tension

Boris Dornbusch: Phantom Limb Construction Sites
31 March - 1 May 2010

‘Phantom limbs’ are those invisible legs that amputees feel are still attached to their bodies and which provide sensations of pain or itching. The legs or arms don’t exist yet the neural systems within the brain don’t seem to acknowledge the original limb’s separation and absence. They create illusions which are related to other sensations of music and taste that can be generated through exposed surfaces of the brain being stimulated with electricity or chemicals.

With his ‘construction sites’ Boris Dornbusch appears to be referring to the Duchampian notion of the viewer creating a large part of the artwork themselves; that they actively participate in the conceptual construction of the art. Their mental creativity generates meanings that almost like a sticky substance attach themselves invisibly to the object of their attention.

Dornbusch here has come up with an exceptionally clever and evocative title, yet strangely very little of the actual art fits in with the ambiguity of the Duchampian concept. Instead of being open-ended and welcoming of mixed interpretations, almost all works are tightly thought through, and seem the opposite. They provide definite clues that anticipate the ‘correct’ answers of these riddlelike artworks.

With these two types - decipherable puzzles that tease with ‘crackable’ codes, and works that are vaguer and which generate more ‘poetic’ impressions – there appears to be little overlap. One is viewer-driven whilst the other is artist-based and more controlling of possible readings, with certain correlations that have high priority. Artist and viewer in other words compete over imaginative control of the work’s meaning.

For ten chosen works Dornbusch has a wide array of clues carefully laid out for his well–educated audience. Two pieces are based on art historical references. Clear Moods and Crashpad (right door) allude to Malevich’s famous perpendicular black square and tilted white one - with jokes about Malevich’s paintings being vandalised by the art-going public. In Dornbusch’s versions one is liable to be scratched by opening car doors or Starkwhite’s audience running up the stairs, and the other they walk over coming in the door.

Three others use semantic logic and witty paradox. In In almost every season there can be a singular moment when something unexpected fails to materialise the title contradicts itself, an unopened canvas is shown facing the wall and a Braille text is screened off and made unusable by a sheet of Perspex.

Skalinada is similar. It shows a b/w photocopy of two dark derelict skyscrapers in the Dalmatian city of Split. They look joined but ‘split’ and the paper has tearable tags on its bottom edge with vertical cuts. The tile refers to an internationally famous Croatian pop song and the sheet is attached to the wall with sickly bubblegum.

The third work coded in this way is Fighting An Old Problem. On a white jersey tied around a column, Dornbusch has painted a white jersey with a sweaty armpit and more importantly, short and long sleeves. They allude to the difficulty of putting on the garment while the sleeves are tangled.

Three other works have a logic that is media-based.

Directions for a Visiting Friend shows us a makeshift map of Berlin or Split (the two cities where Dornbusch lives) made by photographing objects on a kitchen table placed in a ‘cartographic’ diagrammatic arrangement. This photograph has been made into a paper photocopy and then folded like a store-bought city street-map. It’s very witty.

Slow Change presents an image on a LCD of three coin impressions fading from the palm of Dornbusch’s hand. The title refers to digital motion on a DVD, the difficulty of retaining cash, and the fading of ink in photocopies.

With 330 ml we see a running tap recorded on a short DVD loop. Because it is in Auckland, the water is paid for by the user, so Dornbusch amusingly has an energy meter fitted to the gallery power point to show the running costs to Starkwhite.

One large ‘blank’ sheet of white PVC features the use of vernacular language - like you would find in a cryptic crossword. The unfinished title The great white is completed by a tiny painted shark you have to look for, under a horizontal slit.

The tenth work involves the phenomenon of ekphrasis where words are used to describe a visual artwork and even replace it. In this case Dornbusch has written out a line from a Sonic Youth song that describes a paintable vista featuring foreground, figures, and trees used as compositional framing devices. He has translated A view through the trees to a couple standing in the snow into Braille and you can touch the embossed aluminium. However you don’t need to because the title tells you roughly what to visualise in the scene. The details of what you mentally see fit in perfectly with Duchamp’s theory, as you yourself provide the descriptive particulars for a sentence that is essentially vague.

Good art doesn’t have to be brainy, and often intellectual artists make work that is infuriatingly smug and convolutingly rarefied –particularly if the display is short on sensual appeal. Such art needs a carrot to draw the audience in, so that the ideas and materials strike an emotional chord that makes the work memorable and not sterile.

With Dornbusch, the fascinating exhibition title sets the scene for how you receive the display. Some items are indisputably one liners but that is not necessarily a bad thing. A good idea that is very simple can linger long in the imagination and provide continual pleasure and engagement.

So while this show at first glance does seem to be too cool for words, it is not really that icy. It will reward a couple of visits as various cross links – often to do with tactility – readily become apparent. Dornbusch’s ideas become much clearer in a solo presentation, far better than in say, previous Starkwhite group exhibitions. Here, with a little patience and a close examination of the printed list of works, patterns become detectable.


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John Hurrell said...

Hi Boris

I'm sorry my review has upset you, because I was hoping it would encourage people to come and check the show out for themselves, and compare it with what I have written.

I am obviously only giving my interpretation, drawing out what I consider to be aspects inherent within the work and its titles, and revealing what I see as an overall contradiction - regarding the significance of the show's name.

I think my memory of our conversation is pretty accurate -you did say for example that those buildings were in Split, and that you regularly travelled between Berlin, Split and Auckland.

I believe there is a conceptual tightness to the works that is contrary to Duchamp. If you use obvious codes like Braille, diagrams, maps, or song lyrics, it is inevitable that people think they are like riddles, rebuses or crosswords. And whether you like it or not, I have tried to reveal those underpinning structures that set up apparent meaning.

It is often said I am prone to over-interpretation - but that usually comes from over controlling artists. One of the pleasures of thinking and writing about art, is looking and the evidence - and arguing a case. I think I'm good at that, and wish there were more around doing the same.

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John Hurrell said...

Boris, you have no right to control other’s interpretation of yourself or your artwork, but it is reasonable and proper to correct factual errors. But in my case, where are they? And if they exist, how significant are they?

With ‘Slow Change’, the image on a digital print shows a LCD with a hand on the screen. There is no mystery here, anybody can see them and think about the title, and you pointed out to me the indentations on the hand were from pressing coins onto your palm. So what is the issue? If you don’t want information circulated don’t chat to art reviewers. And you seem to think that the fact that it is your hand creates a major, extremely sensitive issue. But the ownership of the hand is implied anyway.

So what other ‘errors’ are there? In one I’m speculating about the diagrammatic ‘Directions…’ It is folded like a map so I suggest two cities connected to you - because it is possible the diagram really works. It’s no big deal if I am mistaken and you made the whole thing up. I’m interpreting the image.

With for the others, you told me you move around between Split, Berlin and Auckland, and that those buildings were in Split. And as for 'Skalinada', I had Googled that song before I saw you. One can see it being sung by Oliver Dragojević on Youtube at the Split Festival.

Again, what’s the problem? The song is well known.



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David said...
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John Hurrell said...

Thanks Boris for the blunt, lively - and I believe fruitful - exchange.

John said...
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